THE OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE BOYS ORGANIZATION

Dozier Graves p4

WATCH THE PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO INCLUDING A REPORT BY PROFESSOR ERIN KIMMERLE ABOUT THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE FIRST REMAINS FROM FLORIDA SCHOOL FOR BOYS IN MARIANNA FLORIDA (AKA: DOZIER):


Knoxville News Sentinel

Former ‘White House Boy' from Knoxville confronts his past and recalls horrors of Florida reform
Knoxville man confronts his past and recalls

Amy McRary
7:00 AM, Aug 31, 2014
10:02 AM, Sep 11, 2014

Joseph Johnson was 3 when he was sent to a foster home.



When he was 6 his mother was killed.

At 12 he was beaten so badly by his stepmother Florida authorities removed him from her care. A judge sent the child to a place that sounded like a haven — the new Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee.

There the real hell began. For 10 months, three weeks, four days and some 10 hours, the boy lived in fear. He was beaten, tormented, molested. Struck so often and so hard with a 2 ½-foot-long, 5-inch-wide leather paddle that blood soaked his blue jeans. He got no medical help.

Long after he escaped Okeechobee the emotional and mental pain festered. For years he tried washing out the hurt with alcohol. Eventually he coped by confronting the past and with ongoing therapy and medication. Now the 68-year-old Army veteran and retired truck driver is telling his story. He talks of the abuse, of his helplessness and abiding anger at the men who tormented children. The devout Catholic emphasizes his deliverance from evil, a faith that buoyed his survival and the care from Linda, his wife of 51 years.

Johnson, a Knoxville resident since 1979, is a White House Boy. It’s the name for some 500 men who say they were beaten and abused at two Florida-run reform schools in the 1950s and 1960s.

The first school, in the Panhandle town of Marianna, was built in 1900. It was renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys; White House Boys often call it just “Dozier.” The group’s name comes from a white building where Dozier boys say employees beat them. Last year anthropologists exhumed 55 sets of human remains in a Dozier cemetery, two dozen more than listed in school records.

Johnson was sent to a second school some 400 miles south of Marianna. Surrounded by a swamp full of gators and snakes, The Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee opened in 1959. Some Dozier employees, including men named by White House Boys as brutal tormentors, moved to Okeechobee. This summer the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department began investigating that school’s past. Johnson was among the men authorities interviewed. His memories include seeing two unmarked graves in a school field. Then, he says, no one would have believed a child.

Today Dozier is closed and Okeechobee is a juvenile center run by a private contractor. Its campus is different; many buildings Johnson recalls have been demolished.

“I learned at an early age you can’t forget the past,” he says. “I realized you can’t live in the past. But you cannot forget it. … I am not going to forget. I haven’t been able to.”

Childhood lost

Before he was 12 and sent to “hell on earth,” Joseph Leo Johnson endured a tumultuous childhood marred with loss.

He was 3 in 1949 when his mother Dorothy was hospitalized in a Michigan sanatorium after contracting tuberculosis. Dorothy, husband Clyde and their five children, ages 12 to 6 months, lived in Belleville near Detroit.

With Dorothy away and over Clyde’s protests, Michigan authorities put their children in foster homes. A terrified Joseph ran away, climbed in a church steeple and, exhausted, fell asleep. His brother Bob, 8, found him.

Dorothy came home after two and a half years, cured of TB. The family reunited; Dorothy and Clyde had a sixth child.

Then Dorothy died. Clyde was driving his wife and their 6-month-old son in his new Packard when the car caught fire. As Clyde tried to extinguish the fire Dorothy handed her baby to a woman who stopped to help, then attempted to flag down help when a truck driver hit her. It was 1953; Joseph Johnson was 6.

Within a year he had a stepmother whose strict rules and severe punishments included locking him in a closet. Eventually the family moved to Sarasota, Fla. The move didn’t help.

In Florida Johnson got poor grades so he skipped school. For solace he sneaked into a neighborhood Catholic church. Dorothy Johnson had been Catholic; she’d sometimes taken young Joseph to Mass. Sometimes, in the Florida church, “I would pray to God, ‘Why did you let my mother die?’ ” he says.

When he was 12 and his stepmother again beat him, he ran. Two sheriff’s deputies saw Johnson on a downtown Sarasota street, noticing blood stains on the back of his shirt. They stopped to help. One assured the child, “Whoever did this to you is never going to do it to you again.”

The next day the family was before a judge who told Joseph Johnson he could help. He’d send him to the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee. It sounded wonderful.

“He told me, ‘I can put you in a home where you won’t be beaten,’ ” Johnson recalls. “’You can go to school; you can go horseback riding; you can play ball; you can even learn a trade…. . It’s a marvelous place; it’s brand new.’” Some Okeechobee boys, the judge said, had stolen cars or broken in houses. But most were like Johnson. They needed a home “and somebody that’s going to help them.”

“The judge said, ‘But if you don’t want to go there, I’m not going to send you.’ I’m saying to myself, ‘What kid wouldn’t want to go there? ’ ”

Adjustment center

To this day Johnson thinks the judge believed the glowing Okeechobee report he gave. Johnson says he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each of the school’s dormitory-like cottages housed 15 to 20 boys ages 10 to 17. The campus included a dining hall, auditorium and dairy farm. School was a windowless room where Johnson completed pages in a workbook twice a week. Other days he worked, first at the dairy barn and then, six days a week, in the kitchen. A baseball field got little use. He never saw anyone bounce a ball on the basketball court. There was no horseback riding.

There was, attached to the auditorium, a small building he knew as “the adjustment center.” There Johnson says he was beaten twice. Each time he was forced face down onto a dirty cot. His hands were cuffed to one end of the bed; his legs chained to the other.

He was first beaten for fighting. He got 20 lashes across his buttocks with the leather paddle. “It seemed like forever. It was at least 10, 15 minutes,” he says. Blood soaked his jeans before he was unchained and ordered to walk to his cottage. His only medical treatment was a wet towel handed him by a friend, a boy named Howard. He learned to pull off his pants carefully and later, as wounds healed, to dress without ripping the scabs.

Some Saturdays Okeechobee employees entered one of the cottages, ordered a cot hauled to its shower room and lined the boys up. One at a time the boys were taken for a shower-room beating. Johnson escaped that torture. But he couldn’t always escape his predators.

Sexual abuse was “rampant.” He rebuked one employee but couldn’t stop the attack of another who stalked the campus at night. That man molested him twice, once wrapping an arm across the boy’s throat. “I knew he would have killed me,” Johnson says. “I was never so scared in my life. But I wasn’t a willing participant; he moved on to somebody else.”

His second beating chained to the adjustment center cot was worse than his first. A snitch wrongly informed guards he and Howard were going to run away. This time he was hit 40 to 50 times, then tossed into solitary confinement. For some 10 days he existed in a small room with a toilet in the corner, a light bulb in the ceiling and a window slot. He got a daily gallon of water and ground-up food in a bowl. He hurt so he didn’t try to sit for three or four days.

Some boys were beaten so badly they couldn’t walk. Half a dozen times Johnson saw guards bring a beaten boy to the cottage, putting the child face down on his cot.

One day at dusk he spotted men dragging a beaten boy from the adjustment center to the rear seat of the school’s 1958 black Ford station wagon. They drove toward the campus tool shed. In a nearby field the next day he saw a freshly dug grave. But the boys were told dairy cows were buried there.

“We always told each other — it was a common comment — ‘If you don’t be careful, where you gonna wind up? Right over there in that ground with so-and-so. You know that’s where they put him. They beat him to death and put him over there,’ ” he says.

Brother’s rescue

Faith helped Johnson survive.

A few months after he got to Okeechobee he found a pocket New Testament lying in a field. The Gideons handed out the books but he’d been working in the kitchen and missed getting one. Nightly he read the book by the dim glow of a hall night light. He was then sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the cottage’s converted mop closet. He’d convinced the cottage supervisor to let him move to the room where he felt safer.

“I was reading about Paul and Silas being thrown in prison for something they didn’t do and God sent an angel to deliver them and turned their chains loose and slung the doors open. I began to ask God to get me out of there, that I did not belong there. I would pray every night, ‘God, if you will get me out, I’ll go to church every Sunday.’ ”

One October day in 1959 he was surprised when called to the school office. His brother Bob, who’d found him 10 years before in that church steeple, had come. Wearing his U.S. Marine blues and holding legal papers, Bob was now Joseph’s guardian. It took some wrangling but Joseph left Okeechobee with Bob.

Fifty miles up the road he forgot his promise to God. When Bob bought a Budweiser six-pack 13-year-old Joseph opened a can. “From that day on I started drinking. I was always trying to forget Okeechobee,” he says.

He lived his teen years afraid Florida authorities would drag him back. For a few months he felt safe living with Bob at Cherry Point, N.C. Then the military shipped Bob overseas. Homeless, Joseph began hitchhiking to California to stay with an older sister. He never made it.

By January 1960 the almost 14-year-old was penniless, hungry and cold in New Orleans. He got work unloading trucks at the docks. At night he slept in the Cathedral Basicilia St. Louis King of France, stretching on a bench near a comforting statue of the Virgin Mary. One day he woke to see a priest standing beside his bench. With help from the priest and others, he rented a room, found employment, enrolled in school and attended church.

“I felt God delivered me from Okeechobee and I let him down but he gave me another chance,” he says. “Every Sunday I was in church. I was afraid if I broke my promise again I would wind up back in Okeechobee.”

Yet he lived a lie those three years in New Orleans. He pretended to be his brother Bob. Only the priest knew the truth. A tall, lanky 14-year-old in March 1960, he looked older than his age. He could use Bob’s identification; his brother’s wallet was mixed with his own belongings. The deception gave him some security Okeechobee wouldn’t find him.

“I always thought as a kid somehow they could get me back. … And I would never get out of that place.”

Spiritual deliverance

For years Johnson tried burying Okeechobee in anger and alcohol. He suffered from depression. “I wanted to go back there a lot of times and just kill every one of them.”

He confided in Linda shortly after they married in 1963. For more than 40 years she was his only counselor and confidant. He kept silent “because who would believe people would do this to children?”

Okeechobee first broke Johnson’s nerves in 1965; what happened there was the deepest layer under newer pain. He joined the Army the fall after he married Linda, and he blamed himself for a 1964 military accident that badly injured — and he believed for years killed — his sergeant. Then in 1965 the Johnsons’ infant son died days after his premature birth. “Everything cracked,” Johnson says. “It just kept mounting until all the dominoes fell down.” His anguish would hospitalize him six times through 1990.

Years after he left Okeechobee, he tried to repay God for his deliverance. In 1990 he began a church music ministry that’d last 22 years. He’d learned to play guitar in New Orleans. Music was his talent “to give back to God. I wanted to show Him I not only remembered what He had done for me but I wanted to give Him all I had.”

Finally, 37 years after he left Okeechobee, he returned. In 1996 he and Linda went with friends — one now a Catholic priest — to confront the past. The state no longer ran the school. Not only did the then-superintendent confirm his memories of abuse, say Joseph and Linda Johnson, he opened a desk drawer to show the cuffs, chains and paddle used on Johnson and others. Though Johnson at first had to be coaxed from the car, the trip helped him. “He was really putting it behind him,” Linda Johnson says.

The anguish returned when he saw a 2012 news broadcast about abuse allegations at Dozier. That’s when he became part of the White House Boys. “We are all telling the same story,” he says. “None of us could dream up a lie like that and tell the same lie over and over.”

His nightmares still haunt him. In one he hears a school employee with a wooden leg thump down a hall. In another he’s that limp, perhaps dead, boy being dragged into the school’s black Ford.

While he’s forgiven the stepmother whose beating sent him there he cannot forgive the men who tormented him at Okeechobee. He would like to receive one day an official apology signed by Florida’s governor. Today, as a White House Boy, Johnson says he speaks for the men who still cannot and the boys who never will. “This is what these people did to us. We were children; we didn’t deserve this.”

“My spiritual relationship with God, my church, my wife and therapy really helped pull me out. Because I struggled with this so long. I want people to see how God works through us and helps us deal with these types of things. God delivered me from there.”


A GREAT EDITORIAL! THANK YOU ORLANDO SENTINEL!

 Apology at minimum owed for Dozier horrors: Editorial

White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, December 10, 2012. Investigators in Florida using ground-penetrating radar and soil samples said on Monday they had found at least 50 graves - 19 more than officially reported - on the grounds of a former state reform school for boys. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY) ORG XMIT: MSB107 (MICHAEL SPOONEYBARGER / Reuters Photo / December 11, 2012

12:00 a.m. EDT, August 23, 2014
Of the many examples of apathy Florida has accorded kids under state custody, little rivals the despicable indifference that tacitly sanctioned alleged atrocities at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where at least 81 boys died between 1900 and 2011.
For many of the boys — sent as young as five to the Marianna facility for infractions as petty as truancy — the final insult was resting for eternity in anonymity in haphazard graves.
Earlier this month, a John Doe became George Owen Smith.
The teen arrived at the school on a stolen car beef. Four months later, in 1941,officials showed his mother an unmarked grave.
He was among 55 bodies that University of South Florida researchers have exhumed, and the first they've identified. They cannot say how he died. However, they finally can say who he is.
That Smith and his parents finally will be reunited in adjacent Auburndale graves offers a measure of closure. Yet, the state owes those who allegedly were brutalized at Dozier — and their families whose trust was violated by violence and indifference — even more. Dozier's alumni deserve an apology. And victim compensation warrants serious consideration.
Christened the Florida State Reform School in 1900, the facility operated under several names by the time it shuttered in 2011. By any name, however, reports paint it as less reform school than shop of horrors. Wretched living conditions. Sadistic guards. Cruel beatings with thick leather straps in a notorious shack known as "The White House." Rapes. Mysterious deaths.
From the start, the school replayed an insidious cycle: abuses, scandal, reform, state amnesia, relapse.
Alumni, such as the so-called "The White House Boys," in recent years opened up. However, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation ordered by then-Gov. Charlie Crist found nightmarish tales and scarred bodies and lives weren't enough support to affix blame.
Similarly, as investigators dismissed the living evidence, the state wrongheadedly road blocked USF researchers' effort to give the dead voice, at first denying an exhumation request.
Now, researchers rescued George Owen Smith from obscurity. Others soon may follow.
Good.
A plaque now adorns the White House, which was sealed in 2008. It reads: In memory of the children who passed these doors, we acknowledge their tribulations and offer our hope that they have found some measure of peace.
Not quite a mea culpa.
The inscription concludes: May this building stand as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in protecting our children as we help them seek a brighter future.
It seems clear that the state's shoddy vigilance created futures for many kids dimmed by Dozier's darkness. Sorry won't change that. Still, an apology — and the rare spectacle of lawmakers not dragging their feet to approve a claims bill — would be a welcome, if overdue start.
Copyright © 2014, Orlando Sentinel

See response from White House Boy, Ben Elder, which will be printed in the Orlando Sentinel on August 28, 2014... below
RESPONSE TO ORLANDO SENTINEL EDITORIAL BY WHITE HOUSE BOY, BEN ELDER:

When I was 5 years old, I stood on the corner of Orange Avenue and Church Street and sold the Orlando Evening Star newspaper. It was a nickel back then. I graduated to a paper route in Azalea Park.
That was 68 years ago. I am grateful to what is now the Orlando Sentinel for two things: giving me an opportunity to feed myself at that age; and publishing the editorial calling for legislation to provide compensation to "The White House Boys" ("Apology at minimum owed for Dozier horrors," Saturday).
  Now 73, I am one of those boys, and everything people have heard about the horrors inflicted on us as boys is true. I am lucky to have survived, as many did not.
Workers at the Florida-operated reform school beat me so badly I not only thought I was going to die; I wished I would so the pain would stop. For all of The White House Boys, the state took part of our lives away and made the balance of it more difficult than it should have been.
  To this day, I do not know why I was sent there. Anyone who disputes what happened in Marianna and in Okeechobee simply was never there.
Thanks again for the Sentinel's support.
Star-Telegram

Health science center team IDs remains from Florida reformatory
Posted Thursday, Aug. 07, 20140 
BY MITCH MITCHELL

mitchmitchell@star-telegram.com

FORT WORTH — A set of remains found at a Florida reform school, described by one former student as a “place of pure horror,” has been identified by scientists at the UNT Health Science Center as a 14-year-old boy who was sent to the school in 1940.


The remains of George Owen Smith were positively matched with DNA collected from his sister, Ovell Krell, 86, of Polk County, Fla.

His are the first identified among the 55 sets of remains recovered between September and December from the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which closed in 2011 for budgetary reasons — and under a cloud of allegations of physical and sexual abuse.


Scientists were not able to determine the cause of death for the boy, who went by the name Owen.

“These are some of the most degraded remains we’ve seen here,” Dixie Peters, technical leader for the missing persons team, said at a news conference Thursday at the Fort Worth-based center.

The 73-year-old case is one of the oldest positive identifications made by the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

The job of identifying the remains was handed over to scientists at the center in December. Bones and teeth from the remains were sent over in three batches, and testing is either complete or being completed on each set, Peters said.

Most of the remains sent to the center have been teeth and bone fragments from the 1930s to the 1950s, Peters said. The remains are ground up and tested for nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. In Owen’s case, the remains were so fragmented that researchers had to rely on mitochondrial DNA to confirm the match.

Scientists at the health science center are working with researchers at the University of South Florida on the project, which is funded by the Florida Legislature and the National Institute of Justice and also involves the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a database managed at the health science center. NamUs is helping investigators try to find relatives who may searching for missing loved ones who were sent to the school, Peters said.

So far, 11 families have come forward, Peters said.

“The linchpin has been getting reference samples from families,” Peters said. “If we don’t get more families we will not make additional associations.”

‘Not an easy road’

Smith was sent to the reform school, then called the Florida Industrial School for Boys, for being with a friend in a stolen car, and in December 1940 his mother wrote to the school’s superintendent, asking about her son. She received a letter back saying that no one knew where he was. One month later the family was told that Smith had been found dead under a house after escaping from the school.



The family traveled to the school in Marianna, Fla., to collect Smith’s remains, but when they arrived they were told that he had been buried in an unmarked grave.

At a news conference Thursday in Tampa, researchers at South Florida said that Owen’s body had been found in a two-foot grave, lying on his side with his hands over his head.

He will soon be reburied next to his mother and father in Auburndale, Fla.

“This is what we worked for,” Krell, Owen’s sister, said at the news conference. “It was not an easy road.”

Krell said her older brother would wear a guitar string around his neck and that the family would sing country-western songs for entertainment. He hadn’t been in trouble before the stolen car, she said.


Over the years, the family kept his wallet.

“It was important to him and I often wondered why he left it,” Krell said.

‘Lot of boys missing’

Records say that there were 31 burials at the school between 1900 and 2011, but researchers found 24 more bodies during last year’s excavation project.

Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have accused school employees and guards at the closed reform school of physical and sexual abuse. But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it could not substantiate or dispute the claims.

Jerry Cooper, president of a group of about 300 men called the “White House Boys” who say they were tortured at the school as children, said that only a small fraction of the 1,400-acre campus has been searched.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Cabinet extended the permit this week for research work to continue on the Dozier site until Aug. 5, 2015. The research was previously scheduled to end this month, Cooper said.


Cooper, 69, said he came to the school at age 15 after he ran away from home three times. He was released in 1961.

Cooper said he counted 135 lashes the first time he was beaten. The beating left his body in tatters and ended with him picking bits of torn clothing from his wounds, Cooper said.

“It was a place of pure horror,” Cooper said. “We have a lot of boys missing. We have records for 180 boys who were there and no one knows what happened to them. A lot of people believe there are more cemeteries. Will they ever find all the bodies? I don’t know. I’m only hoping that we don’t go down as a mystery.”

A leader in DNA processing

The UNT Health Science Center is one of only a few public-sector laboratories that specialize in the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, from skeletal remains. This DNA is more resistant to degradation than is nuclear DNA, which is routinely analyzed in forensic cases.

Since 2003, the center has processed more than 5,200 sets of human remains, making more than 1,100 DNA associations that led to identifications.

The health science center also has the nation’s only lab at an academic center that is approved to upload genetic data for unidentified remains to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. The lab has been crucial in helping identify victims of well-known crimes and natural disasters.

Workers identified a victim of Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy and worked on cases involving Gary Ridgway, a Seattle-area murderer known as the Green River Killer. The center has also helped identify victims of t9-11, Hurricane Katrina and the 1973 Pinochet military coup in Chile.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3
Wall Street Journal
U.S. NEWS
First Body Identified From Florida Reform School Graves

By VALERIE BAUERLEIN CONNECT
Aug. 7, 2014 1:00 p.m. ET

A University of South Florida student works in an unmarked grave at the cemetery on the former campus of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. Associated Press
Researchers excavating 55 unmarked graves at a closed reform school in the Florida Panhandle said Thursday that they have made the first DNA identification of a boy who died there.

George Owen Smith was sent to the state-run Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla., in 1940 at the age of 14, for his alleged role in stealing a car with an older teen. His family received word less than a year later that he had disappeared and was later found dead of pneumonia, according to his sister, Ovell Krell.

Previously
Remains of 55 Bodies Found at Former Florida Reform School
 Video: Remains of 55 Bodies Found
Ms. Krell, 85 years old, said her family always doubted the school's version of events, especially since the school said Owen had been buried just before the family arrived to retrieve his body.

"My father's last words were, 'As long as you live, will you keep trying to find Owen?' " Ms. Krell said. "My mother's last words to me were, 'If at all possible, bring him back to us.' "

Ms. Krell said she has a "peaceful mind" now that forensic anthropologists with the University of South Florida in Tampa have identified her brother's remains, thanks in part to a DNA match made with a swab from her cheek. Ms. Krell said eventually she will scatter her brother's ashes between their parents' Auburndale, Fla., gravesites. "In my heart, I think they'll know he's there," Ms. Krell said.
OTHER INFO ON DOZIER GRAVES / CEMETERIES & EXHUMATION AT THE FLORIDA SCHOOL FOR BOYS AKA DOZIER REFORM SCHOOL & THE PLIGHT OF THE WHITE HOUSE BOYS FROM 2009 to PRESENT:
Click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE


Legislators featured at First Friday

Posted: Friday, September 5, 2014 6:00 pm
Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan


Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, his son and fellow legislator Matt Gaetz, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Marti Coley say they believe a portion of the old Dozier School for Boys will be set aside to memorialize the juveniles who died there but that the rest will ultimately be offered for sale as originally planned. The topic surfaced at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce First Friday power breakfast, where the three were the keynote speakers.
The property was advertised for sale before the state altered plans and allowed exhumation, examination and potential identification of the remains in the unmarked graves of those who were buried at Dozier over several decades of its operation as a juvenile detention and rehabilitation facility. That process is still underway, undertaken by a University of South Florida professor and her students. The team has at least another year to continue its work.
As that year passes, the legislators said, the Chamber and other parties interested in the ultimate fate of the property should be thinking, discussing ideas, and drawing up proposals about how the land could best be used. Perhaps, Don Gaetz said, the more than 100-acre tract could be used for more than one purpose so that it could be used both for economic growth/job production and also possibly as a potential site for a non-profit concern that could offer needed community services.
The legislators also fielded a question about the still-active state facilities of Sunland and Florida State Hospital, both of which have been under scrutiny for possible closure or privatization from time to over the past several years. The Gaetz men indicated they believe the current climate in the legislature and going forward is not favorable to closure and that the idea of privatization is not as strong as it has sometimes been in the past. Cost savings at the facilities have made some difference in moving the pendulum away from that possibility, they said.
Before the question-and-answer portion of their Chamber appearance moved toward those topics, the legislators talked mostly about the session just past, and provided the crowd with a written run-down of the gains Jackson County and all of Northwest Florida realized in it. The legislators said they were able to achieve those goals because the House and Senate leaders sat down and devised a joint 2014 work plan, including strategies for meeting their goals.
Transportation, economic development, education, the arts, health care and environmental initiatives were among the winners in this session, they said. The local area benefited specifically from legislative approval of $50,000 to help save and renovate the old National Bank Building in Marianna as a community resource for the use of future generations. On that topic, a member of the audience spoke in the question and answer period, asking those gathered to let local leaders know if they support local dollars being allocated to achieve the match necessary to access those funds.
Marianna also benefited with a $665,000 allocation for water system improvements, and $70 million was directed to transportation and greenway infrastructure projects in Jackson County.....
The Dozier School for Boys – Interfaith Commission for Florida’s Children and Youth Launched
Posted on June 3, 2014 by Peter Phillips

On Friday, May 16, religious leaders met with NAACP representatives and members of the Florida CFO’s office to receive a first-hand report from USF Professors Erin Kimmerle and Antoinette Jackson on their forensic and oral history research into the deaths of boys under state care at the youth facility outside Marianna, FL. In a two hour discussion following the briefing, the group agreed to form the Interfaith Commission for Florida’s Children and Youth and to draft a letter to Governor Scott asking that the disposition or sale of any of the 1400 acres on which the youth facility was situated be put on hold.


While the full scope of the commission will be determined as it takes up this work, the presenting agenda includes: extending due regard and demoralization of the youth whose bodies have been recovered, engaging in community conversations that address how we should remember and care for Florida’s children, and considering recommendations as to the historic preservation of significant structures on the site.


Most of the children who were killed while under state care died before 1957. By then a second school had been opened in Okeechobee. In 1968, the school was desegregated and renamed the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.  The youth facility was closed in 2011 for financial reasons after extensive publicity around a federal investigation into allegations of abuse.


Within Jackson County there is an economic desire to foreclose research and return at least a portion of the site to development. In particular, there is a state of the art maximum security facility on the site that could become a private youth detention center. The prospect of this happening quickly before all remains of those who have been found have been identified was of deep concern to those at the meeting. There are still many unanswered questions for the final report to address.


Florida’s youth facility was not a rogue institution. Children were sent there from across the state and even from other states. Its history reflects the norm for state practices, from convict leasing and peonage up to private prisons of today. Those shifting norms included racial violence, segregation, and punishments that dehumanize children. Many, if not most, of the deaths of children at the facility were not accidental. The church played a role at the facilities, providing both White and Black ministers on site.


The Interfaith Commission for Florida’s Children and Youth will take seriously how faith was co-opted to support the cultural norms of the day. Our work is not about assigning blame. It is about healing. As we remember the past afresh, may we be inspired to not repeat it in the future. As one state official said, ‘These are Florida’s children. These are our children.” Let us do right by their memory.


We all embrace the well-being of our children. Let us work together so that Florida truly embraces all of its children. For more information and how to join the Commission, contact Rev. Russell Meyer, rmeyer@floridachurches.org










cbs news

Boy's remains identified from shuttered Florida reform school


TAMPA, Fla. -- A boy buried in an unmarked grave at a reform school with a history of unsanitary and decrepit conditions was the first of 55 sets of remains found there to be positively identified, researchers said Thursday.


Researchers from the University of South Florida said they used DNA and other tests to identify the remains of George Owen Smith, who was 14 when he disappeared in 1940 from the now-closed school. They couldn't say how he died.

Official records indicated 31 burials at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, but researchers found the remains of 55 people during a four-month excavation last year. All 55 bodies uncovered appeared to be children, a USF spokeswoman told CBS News' Crimesider at the time.

Researchers said Owen's body was found in a hastily-buried grave wrapped only in a burial shroud. His DNA matched a sample taken from his sister.

"We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was," Erin Kimmerle, the lead researcher and an associate anthropology professor, said in a news release. "But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers."

University officials said Owen's mother wrote the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson, in December 1940 asking about her son. She got a letter back saying no one knew where he was.

In January 1941, his family was told he was found dead after escaping from the school, the university said. The family traveled to Marianna to claim his body, but they were led to an unmarked grave.

His sister Ovell Krell said her mother never accepted that her son was dead and spent the last decades of her life waiting for him to return home. Krell told CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas that her brother was sent to Dozier after he wrecked a stolen car - and he disappeared soon after.

"Well, he had only been there a few weeks when um, my mom had heard from him. He'd sent us a letter and said he was there," Krell said. "She never heard from him again, and she wrote up to the superintendent and he wrote and said he was missing, he had run away."

She added: "After 73 years, I was about to give up. And it was like a miracle. It is a miracle really."

A press conference was held Thursday to give further details.


Researchers to exhume bodies at Fla. reform school


According to state records, 96 boys died while incarcerated at the school. Opened at the turn of the 20th century in Marianna, west of Tallahassee, the juvenile detention center became notorious for allegations of abuse and brutality against the boys who were housed there and has been the subject of repeated state and federal investigations.


Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have accused employees and guards at the Panhandle school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims. Many former Dozier inmates from that era call themselves "The White House Boys" after the white building where they say the worst abuse took place.


Researchers began last September excavating the graveyard at the school, which closed in 2011 for budgetary reasons. The dig finished in December.


The school opened in 1900 and housed over 500 boys at its peak in the 1960s, most of them for minor offenses such as truancy or running away from home.


In 1968, when corporal punishment was outlawed at state-run institutions, then-Gov. Claude Kirk visited and found the institution in disrepair with leaky ceilings, holes in walls, cramped sleeping quarters, no heating for the winters and buckets used as toilets.


"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances," he said then, "you'd be up there with rifles."


All the bodies found were interred in coffins either made at the school or bought from manufacturers, university officials have said. Some were found under roads or overgrown trees, well away from the white, metal crosses marking the 31 officially recorded graves.


Officials have said that it's unclear if there are other graves elsewhere on the school site. The team excavated about five acres of the property's 1,400 acres.


© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First remains from Dozier graves identified as 14-year-old boy (w/video)
Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2014 12:52pm



George Owen Smith was afraid of the dark, so he'd whistle Gene Autry songs, like country music could keep the evil away. Every night for 40 years after he died, his mother, Frances, would sit on the stoop of her home in Auburndale, listening for her boy to come whistling through the woods.


He was just 14 when he was sent to what was then the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, in late 1940, and he was there only a few months when his mother got word of his mysterious death. His body had been found under a house in Marianna, officials told her, and was so badly decomposed that they could identify him only by laundry marks on his clothes, dental records and the color of his scattered tufts of hair.

He was buried before his parents could travel the 350 miles to the school. All they saw when they arrived on campus was a fresh mound of red dirt. George Owen Smith's mother suffered a mental breakdown and never fully believed he was dead.

Now, 74 years after he died in state custody, the remains of George Owen Smith have been found.

Archaeologists and anthropologists from the University of South Florida who have been probing at the shuttered Panhandle reform school since 2011 announced Thursday that Smith was the first boy to be identified among 55 sets of human remains unearthed from an unmarked cemetery on school property.

His remains, the first to be exhumed last August, were found in a shallow grave well north of the known cemetery, which was marked by just 31 pipe crosses planted in crooked rows. Scientists at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth matched Smith's DNA to a sample given by his sister, Ovell Krell.

"I'm sure we'll never know exactly how he died, but at least we have him now," Krell said Thursday. "This is closure and the release of a lot of heartache."

Krell was 12 when her brother died, but her memory is sharp.

She remembers that he was a musical boy with wanderlust. He made his first guitar out of a cigar box, sang to the South Florida Ramblers, and he'd often split town on foot to visit his grandpa, a fisherman on Gasparilla Island. Then, in 1940, he left and never came back.

Krell remembers hearing that he was headed to Nashville, to stab at a music career, but he wound up in jail in Tavares on an auto theft charge, even if he didn't know how to drive.

The sheriff sent him to the state's only reform school, later called the Dozier School for Boys.

Owen sent a letter home, telling his folks he was fine. Then weeks went by with no word.

The next they heard he was in Bartow, not far from Auburndale, caught running from reform school. He'd almost made it home.

Then came the letter from Marianna. "I got what was coming to me," the boy wrote.

But then the letters stopped.

Frances Smith wrote to the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson, in December 1940, asking about her son. Davidson wrote back saying no one knew where Owen was.

"So far we have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts,'' said his letter, which Krell has kept, dated Jan. 1, 1941.

His mother wrote back, telling the superintendent she would be at the school in two days to search for her son.

A neighbor drove the Smith family to Marianna. No one at the police station would talk to Smith's father, George, Krell recalls. Instead, they directed the family to the reform school on the outskirts of town. The school's superintendent told the family that Owen had escaped two months before, and his remains were found under a house in Marianna. He led the family through the woods to a clearing, to a patch of fresh-turned earth.

Local newspaper accounts say a coroner's jury inspected the body and could not determine what killed the boy.

It all sounded like lies to Owen's sister. Owen disappears, then just before the family arrives to help look, he's found under a house and buried before his family can see the body?

Krell remembers something else. The family met with an inmate while the superintendent sat in. The boy said he and Owen had escaped together and were headed toward town when they saw headlights. The last time the boy saw Owen, Krell says now, Owen was running across an open field and men were shooting at him.

Owen's mother took to her day bed until her own death in the 1980s, leaving the cooking and cleaning to her husband and children. Krell, a former police officer, swore to her mother that she would someday find her brother.

"I've waited 73 and a half years for this," she said. "I'm just so thankful today. I'm just beginning to believe it. I wake up at night and think I dreamed it, but it's true."

Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and associate professor at USF who has been criticized by some Jackson County residents who opposed the exhumations, said this is what the project is about.

"We may not know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was," she said. "We do know that he now will be buried under his own name, beside family members who longed for answers."

Kimmerle said it appeared Smith was buried quickly. He wasn't issued a death certificate. He was buried unclothed, wrapped in a shroud. His grave was only 2 feet deep, and his skeletal remains showed he was lying on his side, with one arm over his head. Other skeletons were found supine, with their arms crossed or at their sides.

USF's project started in response to a group of old men who came forward in 2008, claiming they were raped and beaten bloody at the reform school in the 1950s and '60s, in a dank cinder block building they called the White House. As word spread, more than 500 former wards came forward with similar stories.

The men were the subject of a Tampa Bay Times series called "For Their Own Good," which posed questions about missing boys. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation into deaths at the school, at one time the largest in the country, but Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators, relying primarily on records kept by school staff, said 31 boys were buried on campus. USF unearthed 55 bodies, and continues to search for other burial sites on the 1,400-acre campus.

The Florida Cabinet and Department of Environmental Protection this week granted researchers permission to work on the campus for one more year.

"These families deserve to have closure," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. "The Florida Cabinet will fight to be sure that all these deaths are investigated."

USF has collected nine viable DNA samples from surviving family members of boys known to have died while in state custody. They and detectives at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office are searching for more family members to help identify the rest of the remains.

Krell has plans to rebury her brother at the family's plot in Auburndale, beside his mother and daddy.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650. Follow @gangrey.

USF Researchers to Announce Significant Development in DNA Testing/Identification Effort at Dozier School for Boys

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 5, 2014) – A team from the University of South Florida conducting research at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys site will announce a significant development regarding the ongoing DNA testing/identification process during a news conference at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7 in the Galleria at the USF Research Park, 3802 Spectrum Boulevard, on the Tampa campus.

Associate Professor Erin Kimmerle also will provide updates on the land use agreement with the Florida Cabinet that enables the team to work on the Dozier property.  Florida Cabinet member and Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, will speak at the press conference.  USF researchers are continuing to examine the now-closed state reform school, which was the subject of repeated abuse allegations, in an effort to identify dozens of students who were buried there in unmarked graves.

Surviving family members will also be in attendance.

Parking will be available adjacent to the building and will be marked for the event.

For media outlets unable to attend, information and video will be posted on the USF website at www.usf.edu, following the press conference.

Dozier School for Boys:  First of Fifty Five (55) Bodies Identified Through DNA to be Returned to Family, Forensic Investigators Given One Year Land Use Authorization to Look for More Bodies of Children at Dozier
August 8, 2014
Panama City, Florida
By: Kevin Earl Wood, allunited@bellsouth.net
BayCommunityNews.com
On Thursday, August 7, 2014, University of South Florida (USF) forensic investigators held a press conference in Tampa, Florida, announcing recent “significant” results about the continuing investigation at the now closed Dozier School for Boys located in the North Florida Panhandle town of Marianna north of Panama City,
It was first announced by USF at the Tampa conference that ongoing DNA testing by the University of North Texas on DNA samples provided to them by USF from the remains of 55 bodies, almost all of which are believed to be children who were sent to Dozier, has now identified one 14-year old child whose family had been seeking the remains of their child for decades with no luck getting Dozier officials to admit truthfully where the body was located.
The child, George Owen Smith was sent to Dozier in 1940 never to be seen alive by his family again.
According to USF press office officer Lara Wade, “Smith, whose body was found in a hastily-buried grave wrapped only in a burial shroud, was positively matched with DNA collected from his sister, Ovell Krell of Polk County…The positive identification was made through a DNA sample collected from Krell and matched at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, which had extracted DNA from a skeletal analysis. The DNA matching services are supported by the Office of Justice Programs at the National Institute of Justice.”
Ms. Wade continues, “Smith had been sent to Dozier in 1940. His mother, Frances Smith wrote to the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson in December of 1940 asking about her son only to receive a letter back saying no one knew where he was.
In January 1941, his family was told he was found dead under a house after escaping from the school. The family traveled to Marianna to claim his body, but when they arrived were led to a freshly-covered grave with no marker.  Krell has said her mother never accepted that her son was dead and spent the last decades of her life waiting for him to return home.”
“We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was,” said Erin Kimmerle, the lead researcher in the project and an associate professor of anthropology at USF. “But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers.
“After all these years, this child will be afforded dignity that is every human being’s right - the right to be buried under their own name and to have their existence recognized.”
Smith was a white male whose remains were buried on the north side of Dozier at a burial ground for children known as “Boot Hill.”  The Dozier campus, opened in 1900, had been segregated for decades where black and white children were housed separately.  Because of the historical practice of burying black and white persons in separate grave yards it is believed that Boot Hill was the black burial ground at Dozier.  The unmarked graves at Boot Hill have no headstones to identify who is buried in each grave.
USF believes based on witness testimony and documentary evidence that other burials of white children may exist on the south, white, side of Dozier and USF has been continuing to search the numerous acres of the school for other gravesites and children.
USF had received a “land use” permit that expired in August 2014 allowing the investigation and exhumations of the children at Dozier.  The permit was issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after approval last year by Governor Rick Scott and his Florida Cabinet members.  USF announced yesterday that the Cabinet and DEP are going to extend the permit for another year until August 2015 to continue to look for, and exhume, more bodies.
An organization known as the “White House Boys” has organized over the last several years to to “expose the truth” of Dozier.
The organization consists not only of now elderly Dozier survivors, but their surviving families.  Many of the White House Boys have since died while waiting for the truth and justice from the State of Florida.
The leader of the organization, Jerry Cooper, now approaching 70-years old, is himself a survivor of Dozier who has led the effort to get the state and USF to do the investigation and exhumations at Dozier to return the children’s remains to families who wish to bury their children in cemeteries of their families and loved one.  Forensic analysis of the remains may also reveal insight into how these children died bringing clarity to what really happened at Dozier.
The term “White House” refers to a small white building on the south, white, side of Dozier where numerous survivors have testified that they were taken there to be beaten unmercifully with a long leather strap with a wooden handle until blood flowed, and tissue was torn, from the backs of these children who were forced by Dozier guards to lay face down on a jail cell mattress, hold on the head rail of the bed, and dared not to move or the beatings would start all over.
This reporter has been inside the White House during a visit by Senator Nelson to Dozier and felt the same terror that these children must have felt when they entered the jail knowing, and waiting for, the beatings they were about to receive.  The building has jail cells with bars on the doors to each cell exactly as you would see in an adult jail facility.
Cooper maintains that there was “criminal negligence” at Dozier and by state officials not only to allow or cause these deaths, but to cover up the location of the bodies of these children so that families could not find them by not documenting where children were buried and not placing identifying markers on the graves to tell what child was buried where.
Cooper has now met with and convinced authorities to investigate the deaths of children at a similar juvenile detention facility in Okeechobee, Florida, and to search for more graves.  The Okeechobee Sheriff’s Office supported by their State Attorney has now recently opened an official investigation into the Okeechobee facility that is pending.  Many Dozier children had been transferred to Okeechobee according to Cooper where it is alleged that similar abuses continue.
“Additionally, researchers will continue to search for victims of a 1914 fire at the school which is believed to have killed 10 boys. During their excavation of the unmarked burial ground known as Boot Hill, the researchers found evidence of burned remains but did not locate all of the presumed victims of the 1914 fire”, according Lara Wade.
Ms. Wade concluded, “DNA continues to be collected by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.  All sets of remains recovered from the Dozier site have been sent to UNTHSC (University of North Texas), where there are currently 9 viable family reference samples for comparison. Over the next year, efforts will be focused on also trying to locate additional families.  Each set of remains has now been assigned a unique identification number so that in the event family members come forward in the future, a match can still be made.”
The question remains that if some, or all, of the DNA of the remaining 54 exhumed bodies does not make a match with the DNA provided by the families, where are these children buried?
According to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson,“USF and Dr. Kimmerle have done a heroic job in helping bring closure to the families for their loved ones of what happened up at the Dozier school.  ...  And we’re not going to let this problem be ignored anymore. Thanks to USF, we are bringing this in for understanding and not letting this problem be ignored.  And it’s important - it’s important for justice and it’s important for the loved ones of those missing.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Cabinet member, added, “I am proud to continue to support the University of South Florida's important research to find answers to the many questions surrounding the deaths that occurred at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, and I congratulate them on their work and findings. I will continue to provide whatever support I can as they move forward with their efforts.”
Not all folk in Marianna are pleased with the findings and the extension of the investigation.  Some in Marianna claim the publicity about Dozier has tarnished the reputation of Marianna.  Dale Cox of Marianna has tried continuously to stop the investigation and exhumations.  At one point Cox even attempted to file criminal charges against USF and Dr. Kimmerle.  State Attorney Glenn Hess, Panama City, Florida, rejected the criminal complaint.
BRYANT: GLAD FOR THE FAMILY
jcfloridan.com
Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014 5:30 pm 
Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan

Angie Cook/Floridan
In this file photo, Elmore Bryant offers his reaction following a Dozier-related press conference, called by former Jackson County Citizens of the Year, on March 13 in Marianna.


On learning that the University of South Florida on Thursday had announced success in putting a name to one set of remains among those found in a cemetery at the old Dozier School for Boys, former local NAACP Chapter president Elmore Bryant said he is glad that it may bring some peace of mind to the child’s family members.

“I applaud the professionals who have done the work,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to argue the science, because I’m not a scientist, and I’m not going to challenge the thoughts and feelings of anyone else who has an opinion about this. I just know that this must probably make the families feel good about this getting done.”
Bryant had little else to say about that matter or anything more to do with the controversy over the ongoing work being done at the now-closed Dozier campus. The USF project to exhume the remains buried in unmarked graves at Dozier in an attempt to identify them individually has been hotly debated and the research attached to the effort brought other Dozier-related issues into to sharper focus. Those include long-held claims, as yet unproven, that there are bodies buried elsewhere on campus. There had also been talk for decades that some of the boys who were sent to the reform school suffered cruel beatings at the hands of some adults in charge of their care while they were there.
Several months ago, Bryant helped organize a gathering of men who either said they witnessed or were subjected to such beatings. Several stood and talked about their experiences. The event was held in Marianna, and it was a meeting to which Dr. Erin Kimmerlee, who leads the USF Dozier excavation team, was invited. She came, and spoke briefly about the processes being used by her team.

But Bryant said the NAACP chapter has chosen to step out of the Dozier spotlight at this time and had little more to say on any of the related issues.
“ Our state president came here when that first started, and we had every president from Lake City to Pensacola notified so that word could be spread about it, because we support letting everybody be heard. We gave them a chance to do that. We’ve heard a lot of criticism about that, but we stand behind it," he said.

" At the same time, we’ve decided that, if there are people bent on saying, ‘none of this ever happened,’ then let them have it, let them say what they say. We know what has gone on there. We’re not going to waste our time arguing it. We have too many things we’re working on, like housing and jobs. The state has recognized that the stories they told were true. They have no reason to come back here and lie. It is what it is. Whatever they find or identify, it isn’t for me to say one thing or another. The doctor is doing a good job; she’s intelligent, well-educated, and no matter who tries to undermine that, she knows her business. I talked to her at length and this is not her first rodeo. There are a few people who want to hold on to what they want to believe. I can’t do anything about that. We were interested in letting every voice be heard. That was the important thing, and that was where our interests were.”

Boy's remains from Dozier School identified

NBC Channel 2

Posted: Aug 07, 2014 2:08 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 08, 2014 9:53 AM EDT


CAPE CORAL, FL -

After more than 70 years, closure can now begin for a Florida family.

Just last week, researchers identified the remains of George Owen Smith – a boy who went missing in the 1940s. He was one of more than 50 bodies found in unmarked graves on the property of the now-closed Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle.

“It is the answer to my family’s prayer that we can take him back, put him with my parents and maybe we can all get some peace and closure,” said Ovell Krell, George Owen Smith’s sister.

Ovell Krell made a vow to her mom and dad to find her brother when he disappeared from the school in the 1940s. Smith was just 14 years old when he disappeared.

“I think that Owen had ran from the school. And several days later they found his body under a house,” said Jerry Cooper.

Cooper – who now lives in Cape Coral – went to the school in the 1960s. He is the president of the “White House Boys.” It’s a name that comes from a building where he says indescribable abuse happened from the staff.

“I received 135 lashes, about three men,” said Cooper.

Cooper says he heard Smith had been shot to death; possibly by a staff member. He says staff members were known to carry weapons.

However, researchers couldn’t say how Smith died. Cooper tells us the White House Boys learned Smith’s body appeared to be thrown in a shallow grave.

“I’m upset,” said Cooper.

Even though the new details are upsetting, Cooper is glad to put a name to one of the bodies. But, he hopes for more answers.



1st Set of Remains ID'd From Florida Reform School
TAMPA, Fla. — Aug 7, 2014, 6:52 PM ET
By JARED LEONE and TERRY SPENCER
Associated Press
 
In December 1940, Owen Smith's mother wrote the superintendent of the then-Florida Industrial School for Boys about the welfare of her 14-year-old son, who had been sent there months earlier for being with a friend in a stolen car.

Frances Smith received a letter from superintendent Millard Davidson that said no one knew where Owen was. A month later, the family was summoned to the Florida Panhandle school and led to an unmarked grave. Owen was in it, they were told — he had escaped and was found dead under a house. Frances Smith never accepted the story. She waited for him to come home.

On Thursday, University of South Florida researchers said they had identified George Owen Smith as the first of 55 bodies they exhumed from the grounds of the renamed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, an institution with a troubled history where the facilities were often decrepit and guards were accused of brutality. The researchers were unable to determine how Owen died, and they will probably never know.

Owen was hastily buried in a two-foot grave, lying on his side with his hands over his head, they said. He was unclothed other than a shroud. His family says he will soon be reburied next to his mother and father in the central Florida city of Auburndale.

"This is what we worked for," said his sister, Ovell Krell, now 86. "It was not an easy road."

The identification was made through a DNA sample collected from Krell.

Official records showed 31 burials at the Marianna school between its opening in 1900 and its 2011 closure for budget reasons, but researchers found the remains of 24 additional people between last September and December.

Some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have for at least a decade accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn't substantiate or dispute the claims because too much time had passed. Many former Dozier inmates from that era call themselves "The White House Boys" after the white building where they say the worst abuse took place.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice held a ceremony to officially "seal" the building and recognize the boys who passed through it. Some of "The White House Boys" were present and media coverage of the event, as well as an order from then-Gov. Charlie Crist, led to the investigation. Researchers, reacting to the allegations, excavated the graveyard at the school.

Krell said her older brother would wear a guitar string around his neck and that the family would sing country-western songs for entertainment. He hadn't been in trouble before the stolen car, she said.

Over the years, the family had kept his wallet, which was displayed at Thursday's press conference.

"It was important to him and I often wondered why he left it," Krell said. The wallet had a Junior G-Man card, which was tied to a popular radio program that featured a former FBI agent.

At its peak in the 1960s, 500 boys were housed at the Dozier school, most of them for minor offenses such as petty theft, truancy or running away from home.

In 1968, when corporal punishment was outlawed at state-run institutions, then-Gov. Claude Kirk visited and found the institution in disrepair with leaky ceilings, holes in walls, cramped sleeping quarters, no heating for the winters and buckets used as toilets.

"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances," he said then, "you'd be up there with rifles."

Some of the bodies were found under roads or overgrown trees, well away from the white, metal crosses marking the 31 officially recorded graves.

Erin Kimmerle, the lead researcher and an associate anthropology professor, said another body could soon be identified.

Officials have said it's unclear if there are other graves elsewhere on the school site. The team excavated only five of the property's 1,400 acres.

Jerry Cooper, who is head of a White House Boys group, said the circumstances of Owen's disappearance and the way he was buried support their contention of abuse.

"I want an apology from the state for what happened there, but so far no go," said Cooper, who was sent there as a teenager in the early 1960s for riding in a stolen car. He has said he suffered horrible beatings with a leather strap in the White House. "If they apologize, they are admitting guilt and they aren't going to do that."
————
Spencer reported from Miami.
WUSF NEWS
Law & Or6:29 AM MON AUGUST 11, 2014
Giving Dozier Victims Their Names Back

Ovell Krell was only 12 years old when her brother died -- but what she remembers most about him was his musical ability.

"He could walk into a music store and pick up any instrument they've ever made and within two minutes, he could play it," she said.

George Owen Smith, 14, tried to teach his sister how to play music, but those lessons stopped in 1940 when he was sentenced to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys after being caught in a stolen car with a 19-year-old friend.


Shortly after arriving at the reform school in Marianna, Fla., Smith reportedly escaped, but was found dead several months later under a house two miles away.

"Though the family told authorities to hold his remains at a local funeral, as they made their way on the long journey from Auburndale in a borrowed car, they arrived to be shown a mound of dirt by a superintendent who said that they had just buried him in an unmarked burial ground," according to University of South Florida associate professor of anthropology Erin Kimmerle.

That superintendent promised that a name plaque would be placed on Smith's grave -- a promise that was never met. Because of the mysterious circumstances of his death and the nature of his burial, Smith's mother refused to believe her son was indeed dead. That led Krell to make her parents a promise.

"I was searching for him, not only out of my love, but for a vow that I had made my mother and father on their deathbeds that I would find my brother if it was in my power, I would look till I died," Krell said.

Now, Krell has found her answer, thanks to a team of USF researchers.

For the last three years, a group of anthropologists led by Kimmerle has tirelessly studied the Dozier School, which was closed in 2011 after decades of allegations of abuse and violence against students. That work led to the exhumation last year of remains found in 55 unmarked graves on school grounds.

According to USF professor of anthropology Christian Wells, the first set of remains exhumed was the least preserved -- buried barely two feet underground, in a coffin much too big for the body.

In addition, unlike the other, fully-clothed remains, this one was naked, wrapped only in a burial shroud. All that was left were the skull, parts of his hands, his lower legs and his feet.

"We were very fortunate to get the skull and some teeth because we're using the teeth and the roots from the teeth to develop the DNA profile so we were very, very lucky on this one," Wells said.

That DNA profile, along with those from the other remains, were worked up by researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The results were compared to samples taken from living family members of some of the boys believed to be buried in the graves.

"There was a lot of suspicion that this process would not work out, that the DNA would be too degraded, the remains too decomposed to make any of these matches, but this really proves it, especially in this case where this was one of the most decomposed burials," Wells said.

Yes, the least preserved body provided the first name: George Owen Smith.
 
Ovell Krell speaks to reporters.
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
Erin Kimmerle picked up the phone to call the now 85-year-old Ovell Krell.

"I was very excited to tell her so I probably mumbled a lot more than I normally would, but I just said, 'Ovell, we have a match and we've found your brother, we have Owen,'" Kimmerle said at a news conference formally announcing the match.

"It is the answer to my family's prayer that we can take him back, put him with my parents and maybe we can all get some peace and closure," Krell said.

The formal announcement came only days after Krell's 70-year-old brother Carlton Smith died. Of the seven children in the Smith family, only Krell and two siblings are still alive.

Kimmerle said figuring out how Smith died would be very difficult due to having so few remains. A state medical examiner will try to make an official determination.

But even with Smith identified, the dozens of other sets of remains still lack names. While DNA profiles are in the works, UNT Health Science Center technical leader Dixie Peters says they only have a handful of samples to match them with.

"Unfortunately, we've only received 11 samples from different family members, but they represent nine families who have missing loved ones, and so unless we obtain a lot more family reference samples, it's going to be difficult for us to continue to make additional associations," Peters said in a conference call with reporters.
 
USF professor of anthropology Erin Kimmerle speaks at a news conference at USF in Tampa Aug. 7. Ovell Krell, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Paul Douglas of the NAACP listen.
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
That makes finding answers difficult, which bothers many, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"I mean, these are kids, and these kids deserve and will have a proper burial with the dignity and respect that they deserve," Bondi said.

Officials hope that any boys who aren't identified will be re-buried at Dozier and memorialized in a concrete way.

Bondi, along with Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, have come out in support of USF's efforts at Dozier. The Florida Cabinet (Bondi, Atwater, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Governor Rick Scott), as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, have extended the researchers' permit to continue their work at Dozier through Aug. 5, 2015.

This kind of government assistance is a welcome change to Bill Price.

Price, a burly, white haired man in his mid 60s, is a member of a group of former students known as the White House Boys, named for the small white shack where they say they were brutally beaten by school administrators.

For years, the group, along with other former students like the Black Boys at Dozier, have fought the state to acknowledge what happened to them. Now, many officials are standing on their side.

"Not everybody is without a heart, you know what I mean?" Price, who was at Dozier from 1961 to 1963, said with a hearty laugh. "Some people are looking at the wallet and some people are flying from the heart, and these people that are helping us are from the heart. They want to make sure that these people be reunited with their loved ones and have them buried properly and I love it."

Price said that giving the first set of remains an identity is "the greatest thing ever." He added that the surviving students, now grown men, will continue to speak up for their voiceless classmates, like the one boy whose body was exhumed with a single marble in his pocket. 

"And our symbol now, because of what Erin found, every White House boy you see will have this -- the marble in their pocket," he said as he fished a tiny brown and white orb from his pocket and Price called a fellow White House Boy, James "Harley" DeNyke, over.

At Price's urging, DeNyke, a rugged motorcycle rider who was at Dozier from 1964 to 1966, pulls his own purple and white marble out of his pocket.

"Everybody has their marble," Price said as DeNyke nods in agreement. "And if you run into a White House boy, he'll have his marble."

And hopefully soon, with the persistence of researchers, family members, former students, and state officials, more families will get their answers -- just like Ovell Krell has.

"I hope it's encouraging to stick in there and stick it out, you know? I did 73 and-a-half years, so there's still hope," she said. 





Photo gallery is above this article.  

Washington Post
First of 55 bodies buried at Florida reform school identified. Researchers seek more DNA matches.
By Lindsey Bever August 11 at 4:13 AM  


When the Florida School for Boys opened in 1900, it was a reform school for juveniles who had committed serious crimes such as theft, rape and murder. Soon, it became home to lesser offenders accused of incorrigibility, truancy or dependency. The school, known for brutality, became a chilling memory for many who survived and a burial ground for some who didn’t.


Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida, led a team last year to recover the remains of 55 bodies buried there, in Marianna, Fla., about 65 miles west of Tallahassee. A few were buried beneath crooked crosses planted years later to honor the dead. Others were forgotten beneath roads and overgrown trees. Some died in fires, from physical trauma, drowning or disease such as influenza or pneumonia, according to the university’s report. However, the way in which some died is still unknown.

Until now, some who died were unknown as well.

On Thursday, researchers at the university said they had identified the first of 55 bodies through DNA samples. It was George Owen Smith, a 14-year-old who wound up at the reform school in 1940 for his alleged role in a car theft. His family was never sure what happened to him, but a DNA sample provided by his now 86-year-old sister helped link her to her brother — ending her 70-year quest.


“I’m sure we’ll never know how he died or exactly when he died but at least we do now know that he’s dead,” his sister, Ovell Krell, told reporters last week.


Owen’s time at the school was short. Weeks after he got there, he ran away. And after he was caught, he wrote home about it, saying, “I got what was coming to me,” according to Krell. “Those were the most ominous words,” she told CNN. “After that letter, we never heard from him again.”

Their mother wrote to the school to check on her son, according to reports, and the superintendent told her the boy had run again. This time, he remained missing for months before the family finally found out why – Owen was dead. But when the family went to claim his body, they were told he had already been buried — in an unmarked grave — along with answers.

“Four months he was missing before my mother threatened to start investigating, and the day before she arrives, they very mysteriously find his body under a house, totally-and-completely-beyond-recognition decomposed,” Krell told CNN.

The details of Owen’s death were sketchy at best. The school told the family he was found dead under a nearby house where they suspected he crawled and died of exposure. Kimmerle told The Washington Post there is no death certificate for Owen, only a school roster and historical newspaper clips that report that same story. Still, Krell said she always had difficulty believing it. A fellow student allegedly with him during the second attempted escape later told Krell her brother was shot at by three men with rifles as he fled, according to news reports.

“If they shot him and killed him that night, I’d consider it a blessing because I know now what they did to him if they got him back to that school alive,” Krell told CNN.

During last year’s excavation, Kimmerle’s team had to clear trees and brush to reach many of the graves, which were hidden in thick woods. That’s where Owen’s body was found, buried in an unmarked grave shallower than the others, lying on his side with his hands covering his head, Kimmerle said. According to the university’s report, some did die following attempted escapes, but it’s unclear whether medical examiners will ever be able to determine what exactly happened to Owen.

It was never a secret there were bodies buried at the school. Official records cite 31 burials between its opening in 1900 and its closure in 2011. The excavation, Kimmerle said, was initially prompted by families searching for loved ones who never came home. Researchers applied for permits and, about a year ago, the Florida Cabinet met and approved the dig, she said.

But it wasn’t until late last month that DNA linked Owen to his sister. When Kimmerle and a small team recently knocked on her door to deliver the news, Kimmerle said Krell was in shock that researchers were actually able to find her brother and identify him.

“She just kept saying, “Are you sure you really have him?” Kimmerle said.

Kimmerle said researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center are currently comparing nine DNA reference samples provided by families with samples from the exhumed bodies. They hope to find additional families who will provide samples that can matched with the others, she said.

A graveyard where researchers found some of the remains of 55 people at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Fla. (AP Photo/University of South Florida Anthropology Team

The school — known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys when it closed in 2011 — is remembered by some as a brutal institution. During the 1950s and 1960s, a time before corporal punishment was outlawed in state-run facilities, juveniles imprisoned there called themselves “The White House Boys” for the white building where alleged beatings and sexual abuse took place. In 2009, the St. Petersburg Times published an extensive report on alleged abuses that prompted a state investigation.

Krell told reporters last week she promised her parents before they died that she would keep looking for her brother as long as she lived. Now she has found him, she told the Tampa Bay Times, and she plans to rebury him next to her mother and father.

“We’re just really happy for Ovell and hopeful that this is just one of many identifications to come,” Kimmerle said.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
FOX NEWS 13 TAMPA
First set of remains identified from Dozier graves

Posted: Aug 07, 2014 3:48 PM EDT
By: Hetal Gandhi, 
FOX 13 News -TAMPA (FOX 13) -

 George Owen Smith loved music and had big dreams of going to Nashville one day. Instead, the 14-year-old Polk County boy ended up buried in a shallow grave at the former Florida Industrial School in Marianna, Florida, also known as the Dozier School for Boys.

"I was searching for him, not only out of my love, but a vow that I had made my mother and father on their death beds that I would find my brother if it was in my power," his sister Ovell Krell explained. "I would look till I died."

Ovell never gave up the search for her brother and was determined to solve the mystery behind his death.

"My brother had never been in trouble in his life and he certainly had never been in jail," she continued.

It was Owen's first run-in with the law that landed him at Dozier. In 1940, he was accused of going on a joyride in a stolen car with a 19-year-old friend. The friend was able to escape charges, but Owen was taken to a juvenile facility.

Unbeknownst to his parents, he was transferred to Dozier. He wrote his mother a letter telling her where he was.

The conditions were bad and he tried to escape several times.

"We got the second letter from my brother who said they found him, they brought me back and I got what was coming to me. That was the end of any correspondence we ever had with my brother," said Ovell.

Decades later, Ovell continued her search, knowing that there was a veil of secrecy surrounding her brother's death. She still has a copy of the last letter the family received from Dozier. It stated that they didn't know where Owen was.

The family said it was among the many lies they've heard from the school.

"From that day until now, we really did not know if it really was him that was found there, if he was dead, if he was alive," said Ovell.

In 2011, USF researcher Erin Kimmerle began an extensive project to dig up the area where the suspected graves were located. After excavating 55 remains, the very first body they found turned out to be that of Owen.

A DNA sample from his sister provided the positive identification.

The circumstances surrounding Owen's death are still a mystery.

"We see from his burial, an unclothed boy, buried in a shroud, lying on his side along the edge of his grave. It was a hasty burial," Kimmerle explained.

Conditions at the school were reportedly so brutal, grown men like James Denyke, who is among the so-called "White House Boys," have suffered lifelong scars.

"I've got physical problems from the beatings I incurred over there," he said.

DeNyke went on to explain, "I've been married five times. I've been to prison. I'm an alcoholic."

Like many survivors, he still struggles with what he faced decades ago as a young boy.

Meanwhile, the search for continues in the 54 other cases that still remain a mystery.

"I'd like to just see closure for all of us, an apology from the state, is what I'd like," DeNyke added.

The medical examiner will begin searching for a manner of death tomorrow. Meanwhile, Owen will finally get the burial he deserved, right alongside his parents' graves in Auburndale.

Dozier victim identified - 6pm

DNA identifies boy buried at Dozier school
Eric Glasser, WTSP 10 News CBS
5:30 p.m. EDT August 7, 2014

Tampa, FL -- Years of hard work and research are finally helping to bring closure to families whose sons, brothers and loved ones died at Florida's Dozier School for Boys.

 


Dozens of bodies have been found in unmarked graves at the former youth detention facility in Marianna, Florida, and now one of those boys has been identified.

"I wake up at night sometimes, and I think I dreamed it. But then I said, 'No... this is true,'" said Ovell Krell, 85, who for more than seven decades had searched for the truth about what happened to her brother, George Owen Smith.

Just two weeks ago, Krell finally found out.

"At least I know he is dead. We didn't know for 73 and a half years," she said.

In 1940, George, who was just 14, was sent to Dozier, accused of stealing a car along with a 19-year-old boy.

George's family never saw him again.

His bones were found in a shallow, unmarked grave on the school's grounds. They are now the first of 55 sets of remains found by University of South Florida researchers to be identified using DNA.

"Hopefully this fall, we'll start to get more and more results back," said Erin Kimmerle, the USF researcher leading the effort.


On Thursday, state officials also agreed to allow USF's research at Dozier to continue for at least another year, through August 2015.

It's more time, they say, to bring "justice, meaning closure," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. "Justice meaning they will find their loved one's remains."

It's unknown just how many young boys -- most of them African-American -- were abused and killed at Dozier over the decades. But the state appears to be committed to uncovering the secretive and dark story of what happened at Dozier for so many decades. Stories of beating, floggings, death; young prisoners used for low-cost or even slave labor.

"You're only held hostage to your past if you fail to honestly confront it," said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Krell, who lives in Polk County, says she and her family never gave up. They preserved evidence of George's existence: his birth certificate, family photos, an old letter from Dozier. Even her brother's "Junior G-man" badge.

"It is the answer to my family's prayer that we can take him back, put him with my parents and maybe we can all get some peace and closure," said Krell.

In addition to Smith, USF researchers say they are close to identifying at least three more sets of remains using DNA.

For those who cannot be identified, the state is working on a more dignified burial ground, a more permanent memorial to a dark chapter in Florida's history.

PHOTOS

USF forensic experts announced that for the first time they have identified the remains of a boy buried at a now-closed Florida reform school where some guards were accused of brutality. (Photo: WTSP)


The researchers spent four months last year excavating the Panhandle school's graveyard. Official records indicated 31 burials, but researchers found the remains of 55 people. (Photo: WTSP)


Ovell Krell says she was "totally dumbstruck" to learn they ID'd her brother's remains at Dozier School For Boys. (Photo: WTSP)


University officials in a press release said his mother wrote the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson, in December 1940 asking about her son. She got a letter back saying no one knew where he was. (Photo: WTSP)
State News
A Year After State Approves Dozier Dig, USF Researchers To Talk Latest Developments

University of South Florida researchers are expected to make an announcement Thursday regarding their continuing dig to unearth the remains of boys believed to be buried on the property of the now-closed Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

The goal behind exhuming the bodies is to provide closure to families searching for answers into the fate of their loved ones believed to have died from alleged abuse at the former North Florida reform school.

The last big update on the dig—from late January—was the discovery of the remains of 55 bodies in an area called Boot Hill Cemetery.

USF researchers were analyzing more than 10,000 artifacts in the unmarked graves as well as analyzing the skeletal remains themselves to help identify those buried. They've since released facial composites.

According to the school’s latest release, researchers are expected to announce what they call “a significant development” regarding the ongoing DNA testing/identification process at a press conference Thursday.

Lead Researcher Erin Kimmerle is also expected to be joined by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to provide updates on the land use agreement with the Florida Cabinet that allows the team to do their work.

Last year, the team had trouble getting the state to approve a work permit, until Attorney General Pam Bondi stepped in and helped get the matter on the Cabinet’s agenda. Wednesday marked a year since the item was approved.

Thursday’s press conference will take place at 1 p.m. in the Galleria of USF Research Park on the Tampa campus.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

BREAKING NEWS!  JUST IN! (Thursday, Aug 7)

JC Floridian

USF Researchers Identify First Set of Unnamed Dozier Remains as George Owen Smith, 14
Smith will be first unidentified body recovered from 55 unmarked graves to be returned to family

University of South Florida Press Release

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 7, 2014) – George Owen Smith, a 14-year-old sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1940 never to be seen alive by his family again, has been positively identified through a DNA match and will be the first remains exhumed from 55 unmarked graves by University of South Florida researchers to be returned to his family.
Smith, whose body was found in a hastily-buried grave wrapped only in a burial shroud, was positively matched with DNA collected from his sister, Ovell Krell of Polk County. Researchers are continuing to work to identify the other remains recovered from the unmarked cemetery at the former Florida reform school in Marianna.
 click here
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with the Florida Cabinet this week extended the permit for research work to continue on the Dozier site until Aug. 5, 2015. Researchers will look for other possible remains, piece together answers on the identities of those buried there, and work with cabinet member and Florida CFO Jeff Atwater to develop plans for the reburial of anyone unidentified.
The positive identification was made through a DNA sample collected from Krell and matched at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, which had extracted DNA from a skeletal analysis. The DNA matching services are supported by the Office of Justice Programs at the National Institute of Justice. The Dozier excavations are supported with funding by the State of Florida.
“We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was,” said Erin Kimmerle, the lead researcher in the project and an associate professor of anthropology at USF. “But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers.
“After all these years, this child will be afforded dignity that is every human being’s right - the right to be buried under their own name and to have their existence recognized.”
Additionally, researchers will continue to search for victims of a 1914 fire at the school which is believed to have killed 10 boys. During their excavation of the unmarked burial ground known as Boot Hill, the researchers found evidence of burned remains but did not locate all of the presumed victims of the 1914 fire.
Since 2011, USF researchers have been searching for records and the identities of scores of boys buried at the school. The remains were excavated from 55 grave shafts at the site.
Researchers continue to work with UNTHSC, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to locate possible next of kin to collect reference samples for identification.
The identification of Smith’s remains is an important breakthrough in the project, and for his family finally provides at least one answer to many questions that have gone unanswered for 73 years.
Smith had been sent to Dozier in 1940. His mother, Frances Smith wrote to the school's superintendent, Millard Davidson in December of 1940 asking about her son only to receive a letter back saying no one knew where he was.
In January 1941, his family was told he was found dead under a house after escaping from the school. The family traveled to Marianna to claim his body, but when they arrived were led to a freshly-covered grave with no marker. Krell has said her mother never accepted that her son was dead and spent the last decades of her life waiting for him to return home.
DNA continues to be collected by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. All sets of remains recovered from the Dozier site have been sent to UNTHSC, where there are currently 9 viable family reference samples for comparison. Over the next year, efforts will be focused on also trying to locate additional families. Each set of remains has now been assigned a unique identification number so that in the event family members come forward in the future, a match can still be made.

MORE ARTICLES AND TV NEWS CLIPS TO COME LATER!!!
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